Richard Nixon, Watergate, and the Press: A Historical Retrospective

By Louis W. Liebovich | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Media Confrontations

Both the Republican Party and the Nixon White House looked forward to the 1970 congressional elections with great anticipation. Though the war in Southeast Asia continued to claim victims daily, Nixon blamed the Democrats for the war. Middle Americans had grown weary of the daily antiwar protests, and opinion surveys indicated that voters from both parties believed that Nixon had taken significant strides toward an honorable settlement, though what that settlement might be was wholly unclear. Nixon’s approval rating in the Gallup poll, 68 percent, was at its highest ever in November 1969.1

Nixon proposed in May and Congress adopted in December 1969 a lottery system for drafting men who had been classified 1A, or fit for military service. Mirroring a system established during World War II, the annual lottery allowed draft-eligible men to plan their futures. A number was drawn at random for each day of the year, 1 through 365 or 366, and each draft-eligible man (mostly nineteen-year-olds unless they had received draft deferments) was assigned the number that matched his birthdate. Lotteries were held in ensuing years for those who became eligible in those years. The lower the number the better the chance of being conscripted. A number 200 or higher could reasonably assure a young man that he did not have to worry about the draft. This did not please those who opposed the war entirely, but the majority of Americans regarded it as an equitable system and it stifled protest for a short time. Although the lottery soothed concerns about the unfairness of the draft, it still allowed middle- and upper-income men to avoid conscription easily by enrolling in college for four years and receiving automatic deferments.

In sum, however, the perpetuation of peace negotiations and the institution of the draft lottery sparked hope that the war was at last being managed properly, a general feeling that had been lost to most Americans during the final years of the Johnson administration. It was merely a perception, but this war

-21-

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